Can a Yoga Pose Improve Your Mental Health? 5 Poses Here.
Can a Yoga Pose Improve Your Mental Health? 5 Poses Here.
By: Arielle M.
Arielle is a Los Angeles-based yoga instructor, yoga trainer to the stars, and one of our trainers on Handstand! Her over 10 years of experience, over 15 years of practice, has led her to a fulfilling career helping people live their most joyful, pain-free lives through yoga.
Yoga is an ancient tradition that originally started over 5,000 years ago. And now? Now it has swept into almost every city across the United States ranging in styles from traditional Iyengar, to Power, to even being practiced on water! There are so many different styles and variations, and it attracts so many different types of people. Whether people go to a class for abs, or to meditate: yoga is renowned for improving the quality of life of the practitioner. And why? Well, that would be a much longer article So instead: find out why yourself! This article will provide you with 5 poses you can do that will aid in flexibility, digestion, and improve your mental health!
The following sequence can be done in order to create a home practice, or you can throw in a pose or two into your already existing one. It’s up to you! Your body, your practice.
Improve your mental health with a yoga pose!
1. Twisted Crescent Moon aka Parivrtta Anjaneyasana
Spinal twists aid in creating space in our chest, shoulders, and back which can decrease feelings of anxiousness. Therefore can help with mental health. Also, because many of us round out our shoulders, opening them up helps to create space in the heart chakra. Improving mood and confidence. The muscles in the spinal column hold on to unresolved issues (those thoughts that pop up and you brush aside because you don’t feel ready.) Those thoughts and your excuses as to why you aren’t dealing with them are rooted in self-doubt and fear. So when we twist, we literally wring out the doubt and learn to trust the self more.
*Begin by lunging your right foot out and placing your back knee down. Let the back leg get far enough behind you that you are not on your knee cap, but rather the quad. From there place your hands on your hips and pull the right hip back as the left hip works forward to they are in line with one another. I then want you to tuck your tailbone so you aren’t dumping in your lower back. You probably will feel a stretch in the left hip flexor, psosoas, and or quad. From there extend your arms up to the sky as you inhale.
On an exhale twist your torso to the right with your arms at a T.
If you have knee issues you can place a blanket under your back knee. And if you feel off balance, bring your left hand to your heart center.
Keep the shoulders down the back, the heart open, and only let the eyes and head turn towards the back hand if that’s where the spine is leading you. The twist needs to come from the mid-back, not the neck.
Take 5–10 deep slow breaths here. Opening up the spinal column, improving spinal mobility, and letting go of fear.
2. Lizards Pose aka Utthan Pristhasana
Lizards pose is a preparatory pose for the next pose in this sequence. It has a tendency to be quite intense, so please take your time softening into this posture. We are opening up the quads as well as the hip flexors. In the connection our mental health, this pose is where we store past emotional trauma. So this, as well as the following pose, allow us to move through and let go of the past pain.
*From twisted crescent moon, you are going to inhale back to center with the arms extended above you, and as you exhale place both hands down inside of your right foot.
With your hands down on the mat, be mindful not to hunch guide the shoulder blades down the back, pressing the heart forward and melting the pelvis down.
You can stay on your hands for all 10 breaths, or if you would like, after 4 breaths, go down onto your forearms. If one arm does not touch the mat, stay on your palms.
3. Half Pigeon aka Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
This pose is one all of my clients and students do regularly. One of my students said it best, “The world would be a better place if everyone took pigeon.”
Pigeon pose is going to get into your hip flexors, your glutes, as well as your psoas and often there is a huge emotional release in this pose more than any other one we practice in yoga. Half Pigeon pose releases the root and sacral chakras: which pertain to our relationships-both with ourselves, as well as with others. It is imperative to be gentle with yourself in this posture and work on softening the body as it starts to resist the opening.
I am going to give you two modifications with blocks or rolled up towels in case the posture is too intense.
*From Lizards Pose, walk the right foot over to the left wrist by heel-toeing it. Once the foot is over to the left, the right leg stays in a 90-degree bend with ankle and knee in line, and you lay your right knee down behind your right wrist. In a perfect world, the leg would be straight (ankle and knee in line) and you would have your left quad pressed firmly into the mat.
Wherever you are, keep the right foot flexed in a dorsiflexion to protect the knee joint.
If your right ankle is coming in towards your left hip you can take a yoga block or towel and roll it up and place it under your right seat. This will give you a little more leverage. If that is not enough, you can place another block or towel under your left quad in addition to under the right seat.
From here the choice is yours. You can either stay lifted, or over the course of the 10 breaths you may be able to soften enough to lay your chest and head down.
4. Rabbit Pose aka Sasangasana
Rabbit Pose is an amazing neck and upper spine stretch. Because of the throat lock, the pose helps to stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands, along with the immune and endocrine system. This pose has been known to help relieve sinus pressure and congestion. And because of it’s relaxing effect on the nervous system, many practitioners report improvements in the type of and duration of sleep at night! It balances and regulates your body’s metabolism as well as calcium levels, and aids to help combat depression.
*First, warm up the spine with 4 rounds of cat-cow. If you have had any neck, spine, shoulder, or back injuries: especially recently, don’t do this pose without talking to your doctor.
Keeping your knees hips-width, sit back on your heels. You can either tuck your toes or place the top of the feet down on the mat: that is a matter of preference.
Reach back for your heels with your hands turned out. Meaning thumb goes to the outside of your heel, fingers grasp the bottom and inside of the heel.
**Modification to clasp your calves or ankles with your thumbs if reaching the heels is not an option for your body at this time.
Engage your belly on an inhale, and as you exhale scoop the abdomen in and up (like you’re trying to put on a pair of high waisted pants that are just a bit snug), tuck your chin to your chest as you round your spine like cat and place the crown of your head on the ground in from to your knees, with the forehead touching your knees. Keep the chin tucked towards the chest: we refer to that as a throat lock or jalandhara bandha.
Let the hips press up until your thighs are near vertical, your arms should straighten, keeping the shoulders away from your ears. Make sure you’re not on the back of your head or putting all your weight on your head. Stay in this position, taking 3–5 deep breaths into the back body. When you are done, slowly sit the seat back towards the heels as you release your grasp on your feet.
5. Camel Pose aka Usrasana
Camel pose is intense. Not just because it is a backbend, but because we are opening up the chest: the center of our heart chakra. This is where so many of us carry emotional scar tissue and tight muscles. Backbends like this pose are incredibly energizing, which always helps with mental health and emotional fatigue and depression. It also eases anxiety, menstrual discomfort, and some back problems!
*Stay seated on your heels from Rabbit pose, and take a deep inhale, and a deep exhale.
From there rise up so you are standing on your knees, hips above your knees. You may keep your feet flat, or tuck your toes. That is a personal preference.
From here, reach your hands up high and then place your hands on the small of your lower back. Fingers facing down towards your hamstrings. The base of your wrist will fit perfectly in the natural curve of the lower back.
Squeeze your shoulder blades and elbows together, and pull the lower abdomen in and up.
From here, begin to put just the slightest amount of pressure on your lower back, but do not let your hips jut out past your knees, keep them in line. Spread the back pelvis and lengthen it down towards your tailbone. Inhale as you lift your heart and lean back, keeping chin near the sternum and head lifted.
If this feels okay and you want more, you can allow the hands to grasp the heels continuing to firm the thighs, engage the core and keep heart lifted. Head may stay relatively neutral, or you may drop your head back.
Take 10 deep breaths here before slowly coming up. If you did place your hands on your heels you will place them back on the back of your pelvis before you come up.
End with a round of cat-cow.
We hope this small set of 5 poses helps you through your journey of mental health. Handstand hopes to create a safe space where you can go to read, learn, and move in your efforts of strengthening your mind, body, and soul. Should you have suggestions on mental health articles you would like us to write about please let us know. We love hearing from you.
Follow Arielle on instagram @arimarie5, on facebook at @arielleyogala, on twitter @arielleyoga.